Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Texas progressive dilemma

This post could have been titled 'liberal dilemma', 'Democratic dilemma', 'Green dilemma'...

"Not a Davis campaign email: Abbott still holds big lead":

As Rodger Jones notes, the daily email pounding from the Wendy Davis campaign borders on relentless, with Republican opponent Greg Abbott supposedly doing every nefarious thing on earth, short of sleeping with farm animals.

The goal, of course, is to move the needle. So far, no dice.

"PPP poll highlights areas of concern for Texas Democrats":

Jim Henson, the director of UT’s Texas Politics Project, says the poll (together with others) shows the Texas political balance hasn’t changed much — yet — from where it was in 2010, when Bill White faced Rick Perry. “So far there’s no evidence that this race is disrupting the pattern,” said Henson. “We’re settling in to what we expect from the fundamentals.” The caveat: we’re at a point now, Henson says, where voters are just beginning to tune in. There’s time for the momentum to shift, but we’re settling in to the baseline.

Well, some things are a-changin'. The Texas Libertarian Party had over two hundred delegates at their state convention last Saturday, and Ross Ramsey of the Texas Tribune even covered it.  (Texas Greens, also convening this past weekend, had around 50.  And no media coverage save a couple of bloggers.)  Ramsey wasn't much impressed, though.

The difference between this and the size of the two major parties is vast, even at a time when turnout for the Republican and Democratic primaries in Texas is something of a national joke. It's like the difference between Beer League and Major League Baseball, between paper airplanes and airliners.

Still, watching the delegates churn through rules and argue over ballots and candidates puts the personal back into a political process that often plays out in commercials and mailers and quick meetings with strangers who bang on front doors fishing for support.

The 4:1 ratio of state delegates between the two minor parties is mirrored in Texas election results: the Libs can generally draw about 4% in statewide contested races historically while the Greens get a single percentage point.  Less when the D and the R are well-known, and more -- sometimes much more, as in 15% plus -- in uncontested or low-profile races.

This monolithic political landscape, as we all know, is why Texas is... well, Texas.  It's been like this since at least 1998, when the GOP first waltzed.  With one notable exception: that good ol' Aggie buddy of Rick Perry's, John Sharp, who almost pulled off the upset in the lieutenant governor's race that year.  Oh, how different things might have been: Perry would not have ascended to the governorship upon the (s)election of George W. Bush of the presidency in 2000, Texas would have had a Democratic governor -- albeit one as conservative as most Republicans of that era -- for a couple of years, maybe more; the 'Dream Team' would have never been a thing...

Instead, the most exciting thing liberals have going in the spring of 2014 is an immigration debate between a mayor and a lite guv candidate where Democrats are cheering and screaming, "Bring on 2018!"

This is a hopeful electoral strategy if you're a pre-law undergraduate, I suppose.  The rest of us?  Not so much.

Since the olden days of the late '90's, the baseline, as Henson refers to it in the second excerpt above, has been in the 55-41-4-1% range for Repubs, Dems, Libs, and Greens respectively.  (The Greens did not have Texas ballot access in some of those years; that is its own convoluted history.  And yes, I realize my math adds up to 101% due to rounding.)

Nothing much has changed over the past couple of decades.  Texas remains a state with about 36% of its population of Latino descent and growing, but fewer than half are voters, a figure considerably lower than Latino turnout by percentage of population even in southwestern states like California and Arizona.  Can't fault just the brown folks, though.  Voter turnout by all demographics in Texas is 49th in a good (read: presidential) year, and in off-years like 2010, you get Republican sweeps in the 60-65% range.

Everybody who's been paying the slightest amount of attention already knows all this.  And there's the problem right there: only about 5% of Texans are paying attention at this point in the cycle, and that number will expand to just 15-20% by November.

As has been repeated elsewhere, Texas is not a Republican state; Texas is a non-voting state.  And Texas Republicans are going to continue doing their dead level best to keep it that way.

So all that Democrats can do is put their shoulders back against the boulder, while the Libertarians have to recapture the Tea Pees whenever it becomes clear that the corporate overlords are not going to let them take over the Republican Party, and the Greens need to get all of their statewide candidates to show up at their state convention, for a start.  Somewhere among all of those not-stupid-and-mean conservatives, combined with just a few of the 75% of Texans who do not ever vote except maybe sometimes, when the White House is on the ballot... there's bound to be 50% plus one (or even a 39% plurality).

I sure I hope I live long enough to see the day that the liberal majority in Texas shows up at the polling place, but I'm increasingly skeptimistic that I will.

Update: No worries, I'm not suicidal.


Gadfly said...

Well put. Add in that many of the young are minorities, especially Hispanic, and that young voters especially don't turn out in midterms, there's the problem in a nutshell.

Charles Turner said...

I think only when enough voters suffer will there be a revolt. The actual voters are stuck on Republicans, because Republicans help insulate them from the poor and minorities. - Charles Turner